Welcome to a new interview series featuring one of the great Batman writers of the Bronze Age — whose Batwork is being collected in hardcover.
UPDATED 6/11/16: It’s Len Wein’s birthday this weekend, so we’re re-presenting The LEN WEIN INTERVIEWS, in which he reveals all about his Bronze Age run on Batman. For the full INDEX of stories, click here. You’ll be glad you did!
I’m guessing that most people think of Wolverine or Swamp Thing or any number of other characters or works when they think of famed comics writer Len Wein.
I myself have written many times that the primary Batwriters of my youth were Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart but that’s not entirely true. Len Wein also had an enormous impact.
See, when I became a regular comics reader, and by that I mean someone who made sure to go to the store on a regular basis to pick up the latest issues of his favorite titles, it was Len Wein who held the keys to the Batcave.
I was 12 years old, and though I’d been reading comics and had been into superheroes since I was 5, we now lived in a town, and I was at an age, where I could just walk to the store on my own with a little money in my pocket.
This was 1979 and for that glorious spring and summer, Len Wein (and guys like Walt Simonson and Irv Novick) gave me a string of colorful Bat-adventures that featured the likes of Two-Face and Riddler — but also brought back forgotten guys like Calendar Man, who ended up sticking around, and Kite-Man, who did not.
But there were many more stories that Wein was responsible for, only I didn’t know it at the time. When I saw that DC was going to collect much of his Bronze Age Batwork in a hardcover due out later this month — Tales of the Batman: Len Wein — it hit me that Len was the next guy I needed to feature in an interview series.
So welcome to The Len Wein Interviews. Over the next few months, I’ll publish segments where Len and I will discuss certain stories from his Batrepertoire, or just in general BS about Batman.
We started by talking about the classic Moon of the Wolf –– which, strangely, is actually not included in the new hardcover — as well as The House That Haunted Batman … and the odd connection Len has to Professor Milo, of all villains.
Dan Greenfield: Just as a quick preamble — when I was 12 or 13 years old, I’d already been reading Batman since I was like around 5 years old. I grew up on the Adam West show and would get the occasional comic books here and there but, when I was about 12 or 13, I really became hard-wired as a regular … every month, every week, and it was right at the time that you were writing Batman…
Len Wein: Ah!
Dan: …and it was what solidified everything for me. It was actually a series of 6 issues that were not connected but connected at the same time. It was the one that began with Calendar Man and ended with the Riddler.
I know that your run started before that and went well after that but those 6 issues in my mind are framed as classics and when I heard that DC was finally going to collect the work that you had done on the character, I was really, really happy. It was something that was way long overdue and something that a lot of fans today … I mean, they don’t realize that there was SO much that was going on in there that was really influential — from the creation of Lucius Fox to making Catwoman a more morally ambiguous character…
I really wanted to talk to you about your perspectives, how you got onto the character and what you remember from those stories, and what your approach was. I guess I’ll just simply start with, how did you get on the Batman title?
Len: I just wanted to. My first two comics I remember as a kid were both Batman. The first one was an issue of Detective and was called, The Man Who Ended Batman’s Career, where Batman becomes phobic about being the Batman and becomes Starman.
The villain of that piece was Professor Milo. It was the first time he appeared. Then about six months later I picked up an issue of Batman where the lead story was, Am I Really Batman? Again, the villain was Professor Milo. He gives Batman amnesia and Robin has to re-teach him to be the Batman. As a result of that, when I wrote one of my very first solo Batman stories, Moon of the Wolf, I revived Professor Milo who had not been seen since.
So that was YOU, eh?
I felt I owed him at least that much.
That was one of the very first comics I had. It was #255 I think, Neal Adams’ last solo work on the character for a long, long time.
I do remember that story. So you were the one who brought back Professor Milo. … That’s great.
Well, the first Batman story I ever did, I did with Marv Wolfman. It was called The House That Haunted Batman. It was an issue of Detective. It was a very interesting case. Julie Schwartz was editing the Batbooks at that time and we had never done Batman. We wanted desperately to do a Batman and thought this would be a cool story and pitched it to Julie and Julie said, “I have absolutely no interest whatsoever.” (Dan laughs)
He said no thanks and we kind of stormed off as youngsters do. And Neal Adams used to work out of the offices, in the bullpen in those days, so we’re sittin’ around commiserating with Neal. We tell Neal the story that Julie rejected and Neal said, “That’s crazy. That’s a great story, I like that.”
So Neal decided that he would draw the story anyway, despite the fact that Julie had passed on it, under the assumption — correctly so — that who in his right mind was gonna pass on a fresh Neal Adams art job on a Batman story?
So that’s what happened. We did that and Neal finally turned it into Julie as a fait accompli and Julie was furious! But Julie was also not stupid! So he just said, “Don’t ever do this to me again!” Then he took the story and published it.
Wow! Now, Moon of the Wolf was one of the ones that was adapted into an Animated Series episode as I recall.
That’s how I got into television.. .on a regular basis, in fact. I had been working as the editor in Chief at Disney Comics out here in L.A. and Marty Pasko had been working for me as one of my editors and he saw the handwriting on the wall before I did about getting out of town so he left, then got a job as one of the story editors on the Batman (animated) series.
It was about 2 or 3 weeks before I was officially laid off with the rest of the staff for the Disney books when Marty calls one day and says, “What are you doing Thursday at 3?”
“I don’t know. Whatever I want! What are they gonna do, fire me?” And he said, “Good! At 3 o’clock, you’ve got a meeting over here at Warners on the outline for your first Batman episode.” I went, “Excuse me?” And he repeated it and I repeated, “Excuse me?”
I said, “But don’t you have to submit premises before you actually get to do outlines on things?” He said, “Yeah, I knew you’d never get around to it so I gave ’em a stack of your Batman books and they want you to adapt Moon of the Wolf. And that’s how I, uh… (laughs) got into television!
So, in a sense, Professor Milo has been an unwitting through line in a big part of your career then!
Yes, he has! (Dan laughs) I owe him some kind of reverse debt then!